Climate activists are deepening calls for a halt to plans for oil and gas exploration in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and seeking the Pope's support in this, as he embarks on a visit to the country.
The activists have been opposing oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest national park, as well as the recent plans by the government to auction oil and gas blocks, some of which fall in sensitive areas in the DRC.
They cite the grave risks posed by oil exploration activities to the environment, endangered species of wildlife, and the livelihoods of local communities.
Pope Francis, who is on a 4-day visit to the country, is an advocate for environmental justice who has been consistent in calling for urgent climate action, the abandonment of fossil fuels and a transition to renewable energy.
Bonaventure Bondo, Climate activist in Kinshasa, DRC said: "We are concerned by our government's continued push for expansion of fossil fuel exploration in our country, which will come at great cost to our environment, wildlife, our communities and the climate.
Our protected areas are under threat - from the oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park, to the oil and gas blocks that the government is auctioning off in the Congo basin. This comes at a time when all the signs point to the urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, to contain global heating and avert catastrophic climate impacts.
We appeal to Pope Francis, to engage our government on this very crucial matter, to call for the stop to these fossil fuel projects and the prioritization of renewable energy."
Ashley Kitisya, Fossil Fuel Free Campaigner Laudato Si Movement said: "Pope Francis in Laudato Si shares, 'There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.'
The exploration of oil and gas in DRC sets us on the path of more climate catastrophes that will disproportionately affect the poor. We therefore come together to call for the end of unjust actions to profit a handful of people. Instead, we call for a transition away from fossil fuels and the use of clean, renewable energy that primarily addresses the needs of local communities and economies."